Eight Open Floor Plan Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

8 Open Floor Plan Mistakes in a Home and How to Avoid Them

Open-plan layouts are a popular choice for construction, renovation, downsizing, or even daydreaming. They offer a relaxed and contemporary ambiance, maximize space, and embrace natural light. However, decorating these spaces can be surprisingly challenging. We've consulted five design experts who shared common mistakes and advice to avoid them. To inspire your decor, we've included stunning images of professionally designed open-plan rooms on Houzz. 

1. Lack of Zoning

For a functional and appealing open-plan space, divide it into distinct zones like cooking, dining, and relaxation areas. These zones act as individual "rooms" within the space, emphasizing visual continuity, notes interior designer Kat Siketa.

However, homeowners often overlook the need for anchor points to clearly define separate areas, resulting in a hall-like feel.

Solution: Place the sofa across the room to divide it in half and define the living zone. Enhance this definition with a rug under the sofa and floor or table lamps beside it. Using the same flooring throughout the kitchen, living, and dining areas promotes continuity. Tip: Add vertical layers with floor lamps, pendant lights, and potted plants at different heights for visual interest.

2. Excessive Variation in Styles

Mismatched furniture and decor can complicate an open-plan space, creating a cluttered look. According to interior designer Kirsty Ristevski, the elements in an open-plan space should harmonize without appearing too uniform.

Solution: Choose a style you love and apply it consistently throughout your open-plan space, advises Ristevski. Select furniture and accessories that vary in color and material while still visually connecting.

Tip: Open-plan rooms tend to be noisier, so add curtains, rugs, and throws to reduce noise levels.

3. Insufficient Consideration of Lighting

Lighting is often overlooked in the early stages of design, hindering the creation of the desired ambiance in open-plan spaces, according to Ristevski. Poor positioning and the lack of dimmers or individual controls further complicate the situation.

Solution: Plan lighting and electrical elements early in the design process, advises Ristevski. Consider furniture placement and ensure appropriate positioning of lighting fixtures. For example, if the sofa is in the middle of the room, consider installing a floor outlet.

Note that open-plan spaces require deliberate planning for electricity, lighting, and TV connections due to the absence of walls typically found in separate rooms.

4. Incompatible Kitchen Design

In some open-plan spaces, the kitchen lacks a stylistic connection to the overall architecture of the house or the adjoining living area, according to interior designer Danielle Trippett.

Solution: Trippett suggests integrating the kitchen into the architecture of your home and aligning it with the style of the living area from the planning stage onward. When selecting elements for your kitchen, such as colors, cabinet styles, and countertop and backsplash materials, consider their compatibility with the design era of your home and the decor in the adjoining spaces.

Repeating the same colors and finishes in both the kitchen and living spaces can foster a sense of cohesion between the two areas.

5. Oversized Furniture

Furniture that is too large for an open-plan space can impede the flow and make it difficult to navigate the area. Ideally, thoroughfares should be around 35 to 40 inches wide, advises Trippett.

Solution: Before purchasing furniture, visualize how it will fit within the floor plan and ensure that it allows for ample space to move around, says Trippett. If the open-plan room is small and standard-sized furniture doesn't fit, consider having custom pieces made by a designer to suit the dimensions of the space.

Additionally, seek out furniture that serves multiple functions. For instance, a large round ottoman can serve as a coffee table while also providing storage, freeing up valuable space.

6. Unwavering Adherence to Traditional Rules

When transitioning to open-plan living, people often bring their old furniture and color schemes without considering the differences in layout and space, says interior designer Agnes Sweijer. This can result in a cluttered and mismatched look.

Solution: Instead of replicating your previous home, approach the new open-plan space with a fresh perspective. Start with neutral walls to create a cohesive base and flow between the areas. Then add one or two supplementary colors in different intensities and shades for the finishes and furniture in each zone.

7. Poor Furniture Placement

Improper furniture placement is a common mistake in open-plan spaces, as it goes against decorating principles. Traditionally, furniture is pushed against walls to maximize space, but this approach can create a cold and sparse feel in open-plan areas.

Solution: Adopt a more flexible approach to furniture placement in open-plan spaces, particularly with the sofa, the main furniture piece. Consider placing it away from walls, like in the middle of the room, or try configurations like two-facing sofas or a sofa with an armchair instead of the usual three-piece setup. Choose low-back sofas for unobstructed sightlines. Simplify existing furniture to avoid clutter or replace pieces to better fit the space. For example, opt for slender armchairs instead of a second sofa or compact side tables instead of a large coffee table.

8. Excessive or Insufficient Use of Materials

Achieving the right material balance in an open-plan room is challenging. Using too many materials creates busyness while using too few results in a dull atmosphere, notes interior architect Anna-Carin McNamara.

Solution: Prioritize effective space planning to establish the ideal layout and envision the room's functionality and appearance before decorating, advises McNamara. Aim for no fewer than three finishes and no more than five in an open-plan room. Create balance by counterbalancing hard materials in one area with curves and warm materials in another, such as stone in the kitchen and wood in the dining and living areas.

Tip: Avoid open shelves in open-plan spaces unless you enjoy styling them.

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